In the last two articles we have looked at tools that are built into iPads and Macs that can help with reading, writing and overcoming common issues associated with dyslexia. In this article, we will focus on the features now available within the latest Microsoft tools – Windows 10 and Office 365, which includes the most common Office tools: Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint. This article is timely, as Microsoft have recently added many features specifically to aid users with dyslexia and other learning difficulties and have made a commitment to continue to add additional support for users with learning difficulties and disabilities.
Built- in enabling technologies are not new to the Windows operating system, but Microsoft’s latest version has made it much easier to find each application.
Text to speech
Nearly all Windows computers have built in text to speech (TTS). This is the computer voice to read aloud text and since Windows 8 this has included a British English voice. It is not as fluent or realistic as commercial text to speech tools, but it is not as robotic as the early computer voices. In the TTS setting, accessed by through the “Ease of Access” settings or by searching for “text to speech settings”, you can select different voices and choose the speed you prefer. The British-English voices available in Windows are Microsoft Hazel (available in Windows 8 and 10), George and Susan (available in Windows 10). The Webbie website lists free voices available in other languages, including Welsh.
Once you have selected a voice then you can use it within Office applications to read aloud text. Microsoft have recently added a “Read Aloud” tool in their internet browser Edge, their note-taking app OneNote and the latest version of Word 365. The Read Aloud tool selects the word in the text as it is read aloud to help you focus on the text.
Microsoft have also developed an Immersive Reader mode for OneNote and Word 365. This provides a simplified reading mode, showing a few lines of text at a time. You can alter the colours, font size, style and line spacing to ease reading. Immersive Reader can also be used to create an e-book experience and includes many tools for developing vocabulary such as:
- highlighting different parts of speech.
- breaking words into syllables
- integrated picture dictionary.
To add the Immersive Reader you simply need to install OneNote (free) and the Learning Tools.
If you have Word 2010 or 2013 and other Office applications such as PowerPoint, you can also add a text to speech button by following the instructions on the LexDis website.
Microsoft plan to roll out their Read Aloud and Immersive Reader tools for other operating systems and applications. They already have it on Word and OneNote apps for iPad.
While spell checkers are helpful for identifying incorrectly spelt words, it can be challenging to identify the correct word in the spell-checker’s suggestions if you struggle to read. Word 2016 now includes a read-aloud option in the spell checker as well as synonyms to help you understand the meaning of the suggested word.
Windows also has a built-in speech recognition tool. This is made up of Cortana (Window’s digital assistant) and the speech recognition tool for dictating into applications. Cortana is particularly useful if you struggle to correctly spell a word, simple start Cortana and ask it to show the definition by saying “What does [the word] mean”. The spelling is then displayed, broken into syllables along with the definition, which is then read aloud.
Windows speech recognition works best for dictating and editing text in applications like Microsoft Word. To turn it on type “Speech Recognition” into the windows search box or ask Cortana to “Start Speech Recognition”. The first time you start the speech recognition tool you will need to set up the microphone. You do not need to go through the tutorial (voice training), although it will improve the recognition accuracy. Windows Speech Recognition is relatively accurate if you have a clear dictation style and do not pause or stumble. However, it is not as forgiving of ‘umms’ or pauses as the commercial speech recognition tool Dragon Naturally Speaking. Nor does it have tools to help with identifying dictation mistakes or controlling your computer that comes with the Premium and Professional versions of Dragon. So, if you are thinking about whether speech recognition is a suitable tool for you the Windows tool is a useful starting point. It will give you a chance to experience how speech recognition works and whether you are comfortable dictating. But if you find it makes lots of mistakes, then you may need additional training or to invest in a Dragon NaturallySpeaking licence.
If you want to find out more many other ways of customising Word 2016 and Word 365 to support learning then Call Scotland have produced a handy guide available at